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May 2022
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Cultural Cringe

In social science studies the term “cultural cringe” is applied, when people in formerly mostly colonized countries see their cultural achievements as minor in value compared to other countries.  Invented after WWII by the Melbourne intellectual A.A. Phillips, this concept received some attention amongst the Australian intellectual community.  Compared to Europe, Australian artists for instance, only were seen as successful if being in tune with European developments.  Accordingly, European immigrants or Australians with previous professional experience in the UK, France or the US, were preferred over against equally trained Australians, which of course seriously hampered the development of a genuine Australian labour market.  It also contributed to a mood of anti-intellectualism, which often seem to determine public sentiments, and often caused the feeling of alienation amongst Australian intellectuals, who left Australia to live abroad.

While sport is considered to be of high value within Australian society, other cultural features hardly seen as of any value.  Sociologists Brian Head and James Walter attribute this phenomenon to the public perception of one’s own society as marginal and subservient compared to the role model culture.  However, John Hume, an Australian scientist, claim that this concept only gained prominence during the 1950s, when “it was needed” to avoid or fend off any criticism.  In consequence, it caused this country to become very conformist, i.e. disregarding its own heritage buildings or, vice versa, eschewing local architectural creativity.  Also, typical Australian casual mentality is characterized with this label.

(Written for an TAFE ESL course in March 2007)

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